Friday, July 18, 2008

Top Ten Titles

With both The Falling Woman and Falling Free winning back to back and other similar titles going to consecutive award winners in the eighties I had to ask: what is the optimal title for a piece of award winning SF. And so I'd like to announce my upcoming award winning book:

Time of the Last Fireman on Mars
by Robert Willis-Haldeman

Here were the rankings, excluding articles naturally:

  • Man (9 titles)
  • Mars (8 titles)
  • Time, Houston, Fire, Last (6 titles)
  • Moon, Death, You, Queen, No, Dog, Darkness, Gods, Game, Forever (5 titles)
The most common name was Robert as a Robert has won sixteen times but after that the names become directly associated with how many awards that author has won with Willis and Haldeman topping that list.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Damn You, Travelling Salesman! Damn You to Hell!

I'm reaching the end of the collected Hugo winning short fiction. Next week I'll be wrapping up the last stories in the official collections and I have the 30th Nebula collection which contains all of the next year's winners but after that point things get murky.

So what I did was use's database of stories and publications to assemble a list of the anthologies where these winners are. The theory was that I would be able to do locate the optimal books to acquire so I could get the rest of the stories.

At this point I'd like to state my annoyance that no one has licked that pesky P=NP problem yet. There's a million dollars there, guys. What are you waiting for?

Let's just say that my theory has not panned out. Here is my starting list for trying to select the anthologies. I avoided single author anthologies except in cases where more than one story in that anthology won or that anthology was the only place where I given story appeared.

I'll ask you for forgiveness that my notes are rough. And so far I'm not taking into account important factors such as price and quality of the collection which is just going to tie this problem up in worse knots.

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection
  • The Death of Captain Future - 1996 Hugo Novella
  • Think Like a Dinosaur - 1996 Hugo Novelette
  • The Lincoln Train - 1996 Hugo Short Story
The Space Opera Renaissance
  • The Death of Captain Future - 1996 Novella
The Hard SF Renaissance
  • Think Like a Dinosaur - 1996 Hugo Novelette
  • Bicycle Repairman - 1997 Hugo Novelette
  • Taklamakan - 1999 Hugo Novelette
  • Different Kinds of Darkness - 2001 Hugo Short Story
  • Fast Times at Fairmont High - 2002 Hugo Novella (first few chapters of Rainbows End)
Nebula Awards 31
  • Think Like a Dinosaur - 1996 Hugo Novelette
  • The Lincoln Train - 1996 Hugo Short Story
  • Last Summer at Mars Hill - 1995 Nebula Novella
  • Solitude - 1995 Nebula Novelette
  • Death and the Librarian - 1995 Nebula Short Story
The Best From Fantasy & Science Fiction: The Fiftieth Anniversary Anthology
  • Last Summer at Mars Hill - 1995 Nebula Novella
  • Solitude - 1995 Nebula Novelette
  • A Birthday - 1996 Nebula Short Story
  • Lifeboat on a Burning Sea - 1996 Nebula Novelette
  • We Will Drink a Fish Together - 1998 Hugo Short Story
War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches
  • The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson's Poems: A Wellsian Perspective - 1997 Hugo Short Story
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fourteenth Annual Collection
  • Bicycle Repairman - 1997 Hugo Novelette
  • The Flowers of Aulit Prison - 1997 Nebula Novelette
Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology
  • Bicycle Repairman - 1997 Hugo Novelette
  • Daddy's World - 2000 Nebula Novelette
  • The Dog Said Bow-Wow - 2002 Hugo Short Story
Nebula Awards 32
  • A Birthday - 1996 Nebula Short Story
  • Lifeboat on a Burning Sea - 1996 Nebula Novelette
  • Da Vinci Rising - 1996 Nebula Novella
Quartet: Four Tales from the Crossroads
  • Blood of the Dragon - 1997 Hugo Novella
New Dreams for Old
  • The 43 Antarean Dynasties - 1998 Hugo Short Story
  • Travels with My Cats - 2005 Hugo Short Story
Nebula Awards 33
  • Sister Emily's Lightship - 1997 Nebula Short Story
  • Abandon in Place - 1997 Nebula Novella
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection
  • The Very Pulse of the Machine - 1999 Hugo Short Story
  • Taklamakan - 1999 Hugo Novelette
  • Oceanic - 1999 Hugo Novella
In the Upper Room and Other Likely Stories
  • macs - 2000 Nebula Short Story
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Seventeenth Annual Collection
  • Daddy's World - 2000 Nebula Novelette
  • Story of Your Life - 1999 Nebula Novella

The Guild of Xenolinguists
  • Reading the Bones - 1998 Nebula Novella
Sister Emily's Lightship and Other Stories
  • Sister Emily's Lightship - 1997 Nebula Short Story
  • Lost Girls - 1998 Nebula Novelette
Black Cats and Broken Mirrors
  • Thirteen Ways to Water - 1998 Nebula Novella
Tales of Old Earth
  • The Very Pulse of the Machine - 1999 Hugo Short Story
  • Scherzo with Tyrannosaur - 2000 Hugo Short Story
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Seventeenth Annual Collection
  • 10 to 16 to 1 - 2000 Hugo Novelette
The Winds of Marble Arch (anthology)
  • The Winds of Marble Arch - 2000 Hugo Novella
  • The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson's Poems: A Wellsian Perspective - 1997 Hugo Short Story
A Science Fiction Omnibus
  • Story of Your Life - 1999 Nebula Novella
Stories for an Enchanted Afternoon
  • Millennium Babies - 2001 Hugo Novelette
This is My Funniest: Leading Science Fiction Writers Present Their Funniest Stories Ever
  • The Dog Said Bow-Wow - 2002 Hugo Short Story
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Nineteenth Annual Collection
  • The Dog Said Bow-Wow - 2002 Hugo Short Story
Year's Best SF 7
  • The Dog Said Bow-Wow - 2002 Hugo Short Story
Stories of Your Life and Others
  • Story of Your Life - 1999 Nebula Novella
  • Hell Is the Absence of God - 2002 Hugo Novelette and 2002 Nebula Novelette
The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Hell Is the Absence of God - 2002 Hugo Novelette and 2002 Nebula Novelette
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Eighteenth Annual Collection
  • The Cure for Everything - 2001 Nebula Short Story
Stranger Things Happen
  • Louise's Ghost - 2001 Nebula Novelette
The Dog Said Bow-Wow
  • The Dog Said Bow-Wow - 2002 Hugo Short Story
  • Slow Life - 2003 Hugo Novelette
  • Legions in Time - 2004 Hugo Novelette
Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories
  • Creature - 2002 Nebula Short Story
Science Fiction: The Best of 2003
  • Legions in Time - 2004 Hugo Novelette
  • A Study in Emerald - 2004 Hugo Short Story
  • The Cookie Monster - 2004 Hugo Novella
  • The Empire of Ice Cream - 2003 Nebula Novelette

Nebula Awards Showcase 2005
  • The Empire of Ice Cream - 2003 Nebula Novelette
  • What I Didn't See - 2003 Nebula Short Story
Magic for Beginners
  • The Faery Handbag - 2005 Hugo Novelette and 2005 Nebula Novelette
  • Magic for Beginners - 2005 Nebula Novella
Never collected
  • ...Where Angels Fear to Tread - 1998 Hugo Novella - only in Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 1997
  • The Cost of Doing Business - 1999 Nebula Short Story - Amazing Stories, Winter 1999
  • Mars is No Place for Children - 1999 Nebula Novelette - Science Fiction Age, May 1999
  • The Ultimate Earth - 2001 Hugo Novella and 2001 Nebula Novella - Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2000
  • Goddesses - 2000 Nebula Novella - Sci Fiction (July 5, 2000) Website
  • Coraline - 2003 Hugo Novella and 2003 Nebula Novella - Published as a book
  • Falling Onto Mars - 2003 Hugo Short Story - Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July/August 2002
  • Bronte's Egg - 2002 Nebula Novella - The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 2002
That only goes up to about 2004 since there reaches a point where if a story wasn't published originally in an anthology then its too soon for it to make the rounds.

The mess isn't as bad as some but it's annoying at the level of just getting the stories and worse when I'm trying for collections printed in hard cover by preference. I'm going to be thinking on this for a while.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Review - The Healer's War

The Healer's War
by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

1989 Nebula Winner for Best Novel

In the middle of the Vietnam war an army nurse cares for a Vietnamese holy man whose legs were shattered by friendly fire. The holy man gives her an amulet that lets her see people's souls and heal them. When a patient she has come to care for is refused treatment the nurse attempts to transfer the patient to a new hospital but becomes lost in the jungle on the way and is caught in the middle of the war.

The Healer's War is a bold examination of that subject which America has never been able to confront: the Vietnam war. Rather than presenting a war where glory could be won Scarborough strips bare the realities of the war in a way never...

What was that? This was published in 1988 well after confronting the realities of Vietnam entered the public consciousness? Well, never mind then.

This isn't intended to belittle the war experiences of Elizabeth Ann Scarborough which I'm sure shaped this book but so much of the novel's story depends on the "shocking" realities of the Vietnam war that its intended impact has been completely lost. In 1978 it would have been shocking and made an impact. In 1988 the shock has been lost but the subject is still good for a group that wants to pat themselves on the back for "confronting the Vietnam war" (that's not a quote from anyone, just an echo of a popular artistic sentiment). In 2008 it's a well worn road that just isn't that interesting as just about every single war story since the mid-eighties has been filtered through that post-Vietnam sentiment (Pop quiz! What was the most recent generally positive representation of the US military you have seen in film, books, or narrative television?). When Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War it was fresh, by the time The Healer's War the wear was already showing.

One real problem I have with the book is that the point of view character (very likely a stand-in for Scarborough since they have identical backgrounds) is the only moral American character in the book. The others are apathetic at best and the majority are outright evil. Not morally conflicted or hostile; evil. And people in positions of authority are always evil. One literally condemns a child to a lengthy, painful death because he hates all Asians. A US general shows up in the field to directly order the murder of individuals.

And that's the level of character development you can expect in this novel. The Vietnamese (both National and Vietkong) are nearly uniformly presented as the spiritual and moral guideposts while the Americans are corrupt destroyers. Moral complexity has no place in Scarborough's condemnation of the United States.

It made for frustrating reading since the sections that might have been Scarborough's memoirs of working in a hospital in Vietnam are readable. Once she's away from the setting she was familiar with the narrative goes from old war stories to manipulative tripe and doesn't look back. Scarborough writes well but the story she winds up telling and the characters she develops are so weak that it undermines the whole effort.

That's what The Healer's War ammounts to. I didn't care for it because I've been over the same ground dozens of times and Scarborough's immature reactionary story was late to the table in Vietnam examinations when it was published. Twenty years later even that minimal impact is lost. On top of that the weakness of her story telling means that the book cannot overcome the drag of the overdone themes. This one is best left consigned to the past.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More Libary Shame

I purchased a copy of Clarke's Childhood's End from my local library today. The book has a stamp in it from my local library and nothing indicating any other owners. The copy appears to be from the 1970's since the jacket information mentions Clarke's activities in the 1960's. So when was this classic of science fiction checked out?

It has sat on a shelf since 1985. Not quite as bad as a first edition of Rendezvous with Rama that had never been checked out but that's pretty bad.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Review - Falling Free

Falling Free
by Lois McMaster Bujold
1988 Nebula Winner for Best Novel

And so we come to this, the last major award for my archnemesis: Lois McMaster Bujold. I mentioned this in a review of her other work but before I started my project I had never read a book by her and because of her propensity for winning awards for books that were direct sequels to other works I wound up reading 85% of everything she ever wrote. And while her works are in print hard cover editions are tough to come by. That has been changing with some omnibuses that have been released in the past two years (the cover to the right is one of those). I came to the conclusion that Bujold had been working to hurt me due to having to read so much of her output and the expense in acquiring the books in hard cover (and Brothers In Arms does not have any hard cover release).

Bujold has taken four Hugos for her novels and one for a novella. The novella was a double win with the Nebula as was her most recent win for a novel. Since the others were Hugo winners I've already covered them but Falling Free is a lone Nebula winner and so it is the last of her award winners to cover.

Needless to say this means that I've got a pretty good view of Bujold's work. I've seen its highs and lows. I consider her works to be entertaining but usually not particularly deep (which explains her popularity with Hugo votes but not Nebula voters). Falling Free is a tough call; it has perhaps Bujold's most creative concepts but her weakest narrative. It's almost a mirror image of her usual work where I'm not fond of her overarching concepts but her storytelling ability overcomes that.

A zero-G welder is called out to supervise construction on a new deep space facility. As a crew to man it the corporation in charge has created a breed of person with arms in the place of legs along with several other null gravity modifications. The first generation of these "quaddies" are just entering adulthood. They're treated reasonably well but certain members of the human crew including the administrator take advantage of their naivety. Unfortunately just months before the space habitat is read gravity control is developed and the quaddies along with their work become unnecessary. Unless the welder does something this unique group will be condemned to spend their lives in full gravity where their bodies will be unable to function.

The ideas behind the novel are the selling point. What does happen when a genetically engineered sentient being becomes obsolete? How much is owed to our creations? What would a zero gravity species be like both in its "natural" environment and in standard gravity.

The protagonist characters are also interesting view points for this. They understand the complications and are not shrill in their moral standings. The problem is the antagonists who are so generically evil they should be kicking puppies they find in their spare time. Their attitude toward their own creations is hostility and revulsion. It doesn't even make sense and putting reasonable people on the other side of the moral equasion of the protagonists would have been much more effective storytelling.

And that story really isn't that great. Once you get past the big concepts the actual story itself isn't that interesting. Once things go to the actual narrative it shifts to a mass of cliches. I provided very little in the way of actual story details in my description since if you've ever watched Star Trek or read science fiction then you'll be able to immediately describe 90% of the plot from any more information. Bujold offers few surprises.

Consequently I'd say that if there was any of Bujold's science fiction novels to skip its this one. Falling Free was one of her earliest novels and her writing improves considderably in the space of a few years. Just don't bother with this one.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Review - "Beggars in Spain", "Gold", and "A Walk in the Sun"

Michael Whelan
1992 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

The cover of The Summer Queen
by Michael Whelan
1992 Hugo Winner for Best Original Artwork

It's flashback day here! Starting with the art which is the cover to the sequel to the 1981 Hugo winner The Snow Queen. These is also Michael Whelan's final Hugo awards for a while, numbers eleven and twelve for him.

"Beggars in Spain"
by Nancy Kress
1992 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1991 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

The day after tomorrow genetic modifications to prenatal infants becomes a common thing and people select physical traits. A new one becomes available which removes the need for sleep and offers a dramatic improvement in intelligence and life span thanks to its side effects. They've also established an extreme version of libertarianism as an economic and political force. One of the richest men in the world wants a daughter who does not need to sleep but when the modified embryo is implanted a sibling who has not been modified also develops. Kress's story follows the life of the modified sibling as she deals with a dysfunctional family, the fears of a populous who are reacting to a perceived new master race, the tendency of those who do not sleep to hold themselves over those who do, and the ultimate limits of libertarianism.

The idea of a genetic superman being held apart of humanity is one of the oldest in science fiction but Kress managed to put a very interesting spin on things. First the lack of sleep is an interesting vector for a superior being; it's something that every reader can relate to and it opens interesting storytelling directions. Also her sleepless have many biological advantages but many social disadvantages. While being recognizably human they are building a hostile culture. The hostilities are a two way street and Kress gives the reader a front row seat to its development on both sides. Part of this is how well rendered the characters are and how well Kress portrays a very complicated moral situation. As a result I found this to be a spectacular story.

by Isaac Asimov
1992 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

It feels odd to me that Isaac Asimov died in April of 1992, it seems like I just heard the news the other day. When the biggest name in science fiction passed away it was only natural that anything he wrote just prior to his death would be a likely selection for a tribute award. In fact this isn't even his last Hugo: his collected memoir won in 1995 for related non-fiction. If Clarke had written something in the past year you would be sure to see a similar award for him in this year's Hugos (yes, there was a book published with his name on it but it's not much of a secret that Clarke has little to do with the books "co-written" with Stephen Baxter).

The last time this was done for Asimov the atrocious Foundation's Edge won the award. This time... well I wouldn't call "Gold" the best novelette published in 1991 but it isn't terrible work. It is a very introspective one and it makes a nice capstone for a sixty year long career.

A director makes a name for himself doing an overproduced animated version of "King Lear". He's approached by a slightly fictionalized Isaac Asimov who while admitting to his own faults begs for the director to look at a copy of the middle segment of The Gods Themselves with the hope of it being produced. Eventually Asimov bribes the director with a suitcase of Krugerrands. The story continues into the difficulties of visualizing Asimov's story.

The prose is rough around the edges and despite Asimov presenting the idea of a new medium the productions are nothing more than animation. Still this is one tribute that I have no problem with since this is a story about Asimov and one of his better remembered works. It's not the best story but its a nice remembrance.

"A Walk in the Sun"
by Geoffrey A. Landis
1992 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

The scientific problem story has never been a popular selection for the Hugos. Its hey day was in Joseph Campbell's magazines during the 1940's so by the time the Hugos started the genre was already drifting away from them but there are examples. In this subset of science fiction the laws of physics are the antagonist and the hero must use them or their knowledge of them to overcome the obstacle. "Neutron Star" is a fine example of this subgenre and "A Walk in the Sun" might be the most interesting one I've ever read.

The problem is simple. An astronaut stranded on the moon may stay alive as long as the solar collectors on their suit remain in the daylight. She's only a day or two from sunset, though and there are thirty days until a rescue mission from Earth can reach her. There's only one solution and its one that I did the math on myself years ago before I even heard of this story: walk ahead of the dusk line the whole way around the moon to arrive back at the crash site just in time for rescue. Landis turns this into a tight story with the astronaut holding on to anything for as long as possible while racing the sun.

It's a great story with a wonderful concept that science fiction exists to use. All too often the writing itself on this kind of story is weak but Landis doesn't fall down there either. This is a spectacular story well worth checking out.